Natur & Technik


New Data Model Boosts Space Science


6 planets, 2 moons & 1 comet - not often in space science does a single project offer new insights in such numbers of objects in our solar system. The Europe-wide consortium IMPEx does exactly that and now reports significant progress. For the first time in space science a newly developed data model will directly connect simulation results with observational data from space missions. This long awaited progress will enable joint operations of computational models with spacecraft measurements. This will allow scientists to better understand complex observational data, to fill numerical gaps in observations and to verify both, observations and simulations. The main application of the data model will thus be research into plasma and magnetic environments of various planetary objects.

Currently there are numerous space missions in operation at the same time. Despite their billions of dollar costs they all are hampered by one decisive disadvantage: they are left to their own devices. Literally. Due to the complexity of space exploration, instruments and devices are purpose made and data acquisition as well as number crunching follows individual protocols. This in turn makes the exchange and sharing of observational data between missions and sophisticated computational models developed by third parties a "Mission Impossible". A fact that makes the assessment of their reliability challenging. A consortium of scientists from Austria, Finland, France and Russia has now changed all that.


As part of the EU-funded project IMPEx, the scientists succeeded in establishing a data model that for the first time bridges the gap between spacecraft measurements and modern computational models. Focussing initially on plasma and magnetic environments of numerous planets, moons and comets, the team managed to have an operating data model (including adapted software tools and simulation databases) up and running in less than three years after the project start in 2011. Commenting on this success, Dr. Maxim Khodachenko, project coordinator and senior scientist at the Space Research Institute (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, says: "Our data model, which was developed by our French partners from LATMOS and CDPP in cooperation with Finnish and Russian project partners, will greatly aid the simulation of planetary phenomena and the interpretation of space missions measurements. Furthermore it will allow testing models versus experimental data, as well as to fill gaps in the measurements with data from appropriate modelling runs. All these are important advances that will help to perform preparation of mission operations and solve technological tasks."

One specific focus of the project is the visualisation of observational data in conjunction with computational model results. Therefore the newly developed data model is already supported by tools like e.g. 3DView that allows the visualisation of planetary orbits, the trajectories of space crafts, and model simulated data in great detail and in 3D. Even models of so called bow shocks (the area between a magnetosphere and interplanetary space) and magnetopauses can be visualised and analysed.

For an impression of the visualisation power of IMPEx look here:


In fact numerous space missions will directly benefit from the research of IMPEx in general and from the finalised and further elaborated data model in specific. These missions include BepiColombo for Mercury, Venus Express for Venus, Cluster and Themis for Earth, Mars Express for Mars, Galileo, Juno and Juice for Jupiter and its moon Ganymede as well as Cassini for Saturn and its moon Titan. But also the Rosetta mission which reaches its target Comet 67P in November 2014 will take advantage of the data model. One of the biggest challenges the IMPEx team was facing has been the diversity of software systems in all these missions. "There are numerous different systems operating", explains Dr. Esa Kallio from the Finnish partner institute FMI. "Combining all these under a common communication protocol was a real challenge. We had to define a set of methods of which several are shared between all data bases." Furthermore Vincent Génot, the Project Scientist of IMPEx, adds: "Indeed these methods constitute the core part of the IMPEx protocol that now offers several web-based tools for combining, analysing and visualising both simulation and observational data."

The IMPEx Data Model was recently successfully implemented for the complex magnetohydrodynamics models of space phenomena developed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), showing its great advances and efficiency in space science applications.

For further information please access:

The FP7-Project IMPEx (Integrated Medium for Planetary Exploration) is supported by the European Union Grant agreement number 262863

IMPEx core team from Austria:

Maxim Khodachenko (Coordinator)

Tarek Al-Ubaidi (Project manager and IT expert) Florian Topf (IT expert) Manuel Scherf (Scientific user support and validation)

International Consortium:

Esa Kallio (Deputy Coordinator), FMI, Finland Vincent Génot (Project Scientist), CNRS/IRAP, France Michel Gangloff (Work Package Leader), CNRS/IRAP, France Walter Schmidt (Work Package Leader), FMI, Finland Igor Alexeev (Work Package Leader), SINP-MSU, Russia Ronan Modolo (Task Leader), CNRS/LATMOS, France

Scientific Contact:

Maxim Khodachenko
Space Research Institute (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences Schmiedlstraße 6
8042 Graz, Austria
T +43 / (0)316 / 4120 - 661

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